Unity on migration

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European Council in Brussels Unity on migration

The heads of state and government of the EU have agreed on a solution for migration. They are planning reception centres inside and outside of the EU - on a voluntary basis. Germany has a reached a political agreement with Greece and Spain on the repatriation of migrants.

Federal Chancellor Angela Merkel at the start of a work session in conversation with Prime Minister of Finland Juha Sipilä and Sweden's Prime Minister Stefan Löfven.

The heads of state and government of the EU have reached an agreement on asylum policy.

Photo: Bundesregierung/Bergmann

Early on Friday morning, the heads of state and government adopted joint conclusions on migration. This is "good news" said the Federal Chancellor after the intensive discussions. There is still a lot of work to be done on the common asylum system, "but I am optimistic after today, that we really can continue working".

With regard to secondary migration, the European Council agreed that member states "should take all necessary internal legislative and administrative measures to counter such movements and to closely cooperate amongst each other to that end". The Chancellor made it clear: "No asylum seeker has the right to choose which country within the European Union their asylum procedure takes place." On the other hand, of course we require "solidarity with the countries of arrival".

Agreement with Spain and Greece

In addition, the agreements between all member states will be supported by agreements between individual member states. Thus, Germany has reached a separate political agreement with Greece and Spain on cooperation regarding migration policy. Both countries are willing to take back those asylum seekers which the German authorities identify at the German-Austrian border as having an entry in the EURODAC fingerprint file: this means that the relevant person has already been registered as seeking asylum there. In return, Germany agreed to process pending cases of family reunification from Greece and Spain "step by step".

In addition, to better tackle secondary migration, there is a need to accelerate the return of refugees. With a view to Germany’s neighbouring countries in the EU, Merkel announced: "Here we have agreed with numerous countries that we will be completing appropriate administrative arrangements to ensure faster, more efficient return procedures".

In this regard, Merkel proposed an amendment to Section 5 of the Asylum Act, to enable accelerated procedures - as already done for people from safe countries of origin. This category could also include people with a EURODAC entry, especially since they could already live in a secure state.

Work in partnership with Africa

In addition, the conclusions of the European Council envision incentives to prevent perilous flight across the Mediterranean Sea. In this context, the European Council called on the Council of Ministers and the Commission to "swiftly explore the concept of regional disembarkation platforms, in close cooperation with relevant third countries as well as UNHCR and IOM". The Chancellor emphasised the importance of working in partnership with Africa, because it is the only way to create "real win-win" situations.

More money for Frontex

By 2020, the joint European Border and Coast Guard Agency, Frontex, will be better equipped materially and financially to protect the external borders. "I think that this is a very important message," said the Chancellor. Frontex also provides support with the repatriation of irregular migrants.

Reception centres within the EU

In terms of the conclusions of the Council, people rescued within EU territory will be processed in controlled centres in accordance with international law. The centres will be set up in the member states on a purely voluntary basis. These should enable rapid and secure processing, with the full support of the EU. In addition, a distinction will be made between irregular migrants - who will be returned - and persons in need of international protection, for whom the principle of solidarity will apply.

Since the height of the migration to Europe in 2015, the number of incoming migrants in Germany has fallen dramatically: according to the International Organization for Migration (IOM) in Geneva, in the first half of 2018 there were around 54,300 people - compared with almost 187,000 in the (whole of ) last year, and 390,000 people in 2016. Most of them reached Europe across the Mediterranean. There is still illegal migration, and the criminal business of human trafficking persists.

In focus on the 2nd day: economic and monetary union

On Friday morning, the European Council discussed the need for reform of the economic and monetary union.

At their meeting in Meseberg, Germany and France had previously discussed key measures in a roadmap to further strengthen and deepen the Eurozone. Now, the heads of state and government have debated these proposals for the first time.

According to the Chancellor, there is consensus that the completion of the banking union requires that risks are reduced in the banking sector. "Only then can we develop a common safety net," Merkel said. This should be prepared within the framework of the ESM. Parallel to this, the Euro stability fund ESM should be expanded into to a European monetary fund.

Ultimately the heads of state and government want to strengthen competitiveness and convergence in the Eurozone, "because we know that a currency can only stay together, if we can guarantee convergence and the same clout in the long term".

Much has been achieved in security and defence

With regard to security and defence, the heads of state and government spoke with NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg, and discussed the European Union's cooperation with NATO. “The conclusions show that we have achieved a great deal in the area of structured cooperation and in the area of defence policy," said the Chancellor. It is fast, efficient and also very precise.

"So overall they were very busy hours," summed up the Chancellor, also regarding the agreement on migration, but there were "substantial developments".

It is the European Council’s (EC) task to provide the EU with the necessary impulses for its development and general political directions and priorities. Thus, the Council is not usually concerned with day-to-day business, but with the big questions shaping our future.